There are many definitions for what well-being means, the OED definition is ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’. In 2012 a new definition for well-being was proposed by Dodge et al, ‘as the balance point between an individual’s resource pool and the challenges faced’ summarised by the image below and you can read the full paper here
This really appealed to me as a definition as it captures everything we talk about in Zen Pilates. In class I share a practical self-care tip each week to help build my students library of tools and activities that energise and boost your well-being toolkit. This then equips you to successfully tackle and respond to life’s challenges – exactly as Dodge et al describe in their definition.
This framework is also broad enough to reflect just how individual this balance is – what energises one person may drain another, what someone sees as a challenge might be an opportunity to another. We need to know ourselves in order to strike the right balance for us individually.
There are so many conflicting ideas about what constitutes health and wellbeing that it can be really overwhelming to navigate. Taking a ‘balanced’ approach is becoming an increasingly popular perspective. Diets that label some foods as bad and others as good are outmoded now, same with exercise no one exercise style is deemed better than another in fact a complimentary mix is now seen as ideal, same with any one set style to work or even family set up. It’s about getting to know yourself and what brings you a sense of health and wellbeing and then making the time to regularly put those wellbeing practices in place.
Well-being resources are highly personal but a few that are commonly backed by science and recommended by leaders in this field include; moving your body, breath work (which can be as simple as a few minutes just noticing your breath) gratitude practice, acts of kindness, walks in nature, taking regular breaks from any activity and balanced eating.
So take a moment to reflect on your ‘well-being balance’, how are life’s challenges leaving you feeling at the moment and could you top up your inner ‘resources’ to serve you better and increase your overall sense of wellbeing.
I was really lucky to get the chance to talk on local radio recently about all things Pilates and entice the presenter to try it for the first time for himself!
We talked about the evolution of my Pilates business over the past couple of years (with a particular focus on the impact of Covid), what Pilates is, who it might appeal to and how I run personalised one-to-one sessions. Bob, the presenter, then took the brave decision to join me for a one-to-one Pilates session that very afternoon and then shared his experience the following week.
Here’s the recording of the initial chat – before the one-to-one:
Then Bob joined me for a one-to-one and shared back his experience in a second interview the following week. Here’s the second post workout chat:
Thank you to Bob Johnson for the opportunity to chat all things Pilates and for being open minded to trying it for himself. I’m so glad he’s now a Pilates fan and look forward to working with him!
I’m embarrassed to say that I had to attend a vehicle speed awareness course last week.
I’d been caught going just a couple of miles over the limit and I consider myself a safe driver so, if I’m honest, it’s been a date in the diary I’d been dreading. My assumption was that it would be a dry course full of facts and figures designed to educate and frighten us into driving more slowly. To my relief it was actually a fascinating exploration of why we speed with practical tips that reflect much of what we talk about in Zen Pilates to bring about mindfulness and calm.
Why we speed in our cars boiled down to 3 things:
1. We rush. Most of us are operating day to day in a mental rush, a hurry that translates into physical speed when we get in the car. We might be late or we might simply want to gain a few seconds advantage on the day.
2. We’re distracted. Whilst driving a lethal machine few of us are focussed on what’s going on around us, in the present moment, but rather where we’re going or where we’ve just been.
3. We’re frazzled. We’re functioning frazzled – our overloaded, overhyper minds come with us into the car equating to choices and behaviour during our journeys that at times come from irritable, anger or frustration leading to bad decisions.
At worst when we drive in this mode we’re impolite, rude or worst case downright dangerous. I had to admit that on reflection I have been recently, at times, sat in the impolite and impatient space.
We were given a really practical tip to help us become calmer, more in control, mindful and slower in our approach to driving. We were told to create a safety bubble. We were shown the many benefits that creating and maintaining a physical space between our vehicle and the vehicle in front can have on accidents, or potential accidents. By opening up space for ourselves and each other we will save lives. They weren’t just talking about physically – physically putting a greater distance between you and the vehicle in front is an important part of it – 1metre for every mile per hour of your speed is a good barometer or use the ‘only a fool breaks the 2 second rule’, but there are mental benefits too:
1. It makes you mindful – monitoring and keeping that physical gap keeps you in the moment.
2. It gives you space to think – to respond not just react. If someone encroaches on your bubble there’s space for you to ease away safely and take an alternative cause of action rather than having to just react and be rushed into poor decisions.
3. It’s infectious – when one person slows down there’s a ripple effect.
The class kept making me think about my Zen Pilates classes. In these sessions we use movement, breathing and mindfulness techniques to help counter all of the above. Most of us are living our lives rushed, distracted and frazzled. In general life, unlike driving, we don’t receive fines for putting our mental well-being at risk. Yet when we’re feeling overwhelmed, rushed, encroached upon, in reaction rather than considered response mode – we’re making poor decisions and increasing our chances of a calamity.
So my outtake from the course was to reclaim your safety bubble not just when driving but in life. Recognise when you’re operating rushed, distracted and frazzled and increase your safety bubble. You can do this by:
• Taking a break – physically and mentally put some distance between yourself from your surroundings and the problems you’re facing. Go for a walk or sit quietly for a moment and just breathe deeply. You’ll reset your mind and gain some perspective.
• Take the emotion out of the situation and just observe the facts. Breathe deeply and ask yourself what would you advise a friend to do?
• Use a moment of mindfulness and visualise yourself surrounded by a safety bubble. Start with 3 deep breaths, take a body scan and imagine being surrounded and floating in the centre of a bubble of positivity. Imagine that bubble to be impenetrable – only positive, relaxed, vibes can enter the bubble, negativity can’t penetrate the walls. Float with your breath enveloped in a bubble of calm. A few minutes of this mindful exercise will pull you out of fight and flight mode and reset your system into the parasympathetic system of rest and digest.
Christmas is a wonderful time of year but also one that can bring increased distraction and pressure. So this Christmas don’t be afraid to pump the breaks, slow things down, stay in the moment and if you need to deploy your safety bubble – you know what to do.
Reminder it’s ok to not be ok. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or just a bit low right now that’s ok. It’s unsettling times. Here are 3 quick ways to create a ‘circuit break’ for your mind and put you back in control of your thinking.
🖐 5 fingered breathing. Kids and adults love this multi sensory technique. Place your right index finger at the base of your left little finger, I half for a count of 4 as you trace up the outside edge of your finger. Then slowly exhale for 4 as you travel down the inside of your little finger. Continue like this until your thumb then travel back.
👀 Look close look far. Sit by a window and find the closest object To you. Really study all its lines, colours, shapes and textures for 1 minute then look into the distance and take 3 deep breaths. Enjoy the contrast and perspective this brings.
➕ Positive overwhelm. Replace negative overwhelm with positive overwhelm. Walk outside and notice your feet on the ground as you take in the autumn colours, the shapes and colours of the sky and the sounds of nature.
And if you only have 10seconds come out of your mind into your body with a stretch break. Make yourself into a 🌟 with wide arms and feet and ssstrrreeettccchhhh while you breathe deeply. Feel grounded and expanded.
Here’s a short summary from this insightful – interview on practical habits to increase happiness
Sonja Lyubomirsky is an American professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, a book of strategies backed by scientific research that can be used to increase happiness. In this 50 minute interview she shares some really helpful tips so if you don’t have the time to watch I’ve summarised the juicy bits here:
Are we in control of our happiness?
Sonja explains yes absolutely. In her book she shared a model that explains what determines happiness, it was called the 50/40/10 model. There are 3 key determining factors:
What we do every day – our actions and behaviours
She caveated the numbers applied to the model 18 years ago were very approximate, but the three factors remain relevant. So if roughly 40% of what makes us happy is based on our actions and behaviours, it’s really important that we ensure those actions and behaviours are serving our sense of well-being and happiness.
What evidence based actions and behaviours contribute most effectively to our happiness?
Sonja explains there are three ‘happiness interventions’ that her lab focus on for their proven benefits to our sense of happiness:
Acts of kindness/generosity
Engaging in social interactions/ developing connections
The three are also inter-connected with Connection to others at the heart as it makes life worth living. Both gratitude and kindness are activities that make us feel more connected.
She explains there are hundreds and hundreds of strategies and actions and it’s really important to find what works for you. They should fit your personality, values and goals. She highlights that exercise for example can have a hugely beneficial impact on your happiness and there are numerous others. It’s finding what works for you.
Can you share some practical tips for finding the right action for you?
Sonja suggests 3 questions to ask yourself when taking up a potential new habit such as meditation:
Do I think it will be enjoyable?
Do I think it will be meaningful?
Do I think it will feel natural?
She caveats that taking up any new habit or action can feel ‘unnatural’ or a little ‘uncomfortable’ to begin with but bearing that in mind – ask yourself those questions first.
There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to happiness. Can you bust some happiness myths?
The pursuit of money, fame, beauty and material things are all extrinsic goals. There’s a saying:
‘Money doesn’t make you happy but everyone wants to find out for themselves’ Zig Ziglar
‘Hedonic adaptation’ explains why this pursuit is futile. Human beings are very good at getting used to new things in their lives. We buy a new car or handbag and it makes us happy but then we slowly adapt – it’s no longer new and shiny and so the boost goes away. Then we want the boost again, so we buy something else. More ‘stuff’ doesn’t make us happier but the new purchase does temporarily, so we seek the boost. Good to be aware of that!
How do you think Covid has impacted happiness?
Real life connections have been hugely limited. We are inherently social animals that benefit from face-to-face human interaction. This significant reduction in exposure to others will have had a detrimental impact for most. However, some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts so not everyone will have felt the loss as acutely. Introverts still crave quality connections, they may just want them from fewer people in more one-on-one circumstances.
On the plus side, Covid has given some of us more time. More time to reflect on what matters. Sometimes it takes a crises for us all to re-evaluate what we really want and what’s really important to us. This is a great time to wake-up and re-prioritise – the chance to start a new chapter.
Within ‘self-determination theory’ there are 3 basic human needs that are critical for happiness. When you reflect on what really matters it’s likely it falls into one of these buckets. First is connecting to others (relationships), the second is how you contribute to your community and society, thirdly, your personal growth – a sense of learning, challenging ourselves, a desire to improve how we are as parents, cooks, gardeners, crafters etc. Most people finding a new sense of meaning or purpose will be searching for things that sit within these buckets.
We live within turbulent times, how can we feel more in control and connected?
Let’s first acknowledge that some people have very little control in their lives. But many of us are fortunate enough to be able to be change agents. Through our daily actions and choices we can make a positive difference to the world around us. Through acts of kindness to our neighbours and strangers we’ll change someone’s day. Start with your own neighbourhood and sphere of influence. You can have a positive impact on the world one small action at a time.
Also, have gratitude towards the people you don’t even know. Towards people who don’t look like or sound like you. Have gratitude towards people who have helped make your life possible those that have taught you or made the clothes your wearing or provided the food the shops can supply.
Society seems to be less tolerant currently with a fear of the ‘other’. There is an evolutionary explanation for this; we survive by belonging to a family, a group, a community. But we also feel threatened by people who don’t share our opinions and beliefs and simply don’t look like us. Yet, as ‘Broaden and Build theory’ explains, the more we cultivate positive emotions within us, the more expansive our thinking and tolerance becomes, leading to greater opportunities for happiness.
A great way to foster closer connections is to share mutual vulnerability. If you have a goal of deepening a connection with a friend – have a go at asking the ’36 questions to fall in love’. This has even been conducted as a test among people from opposing political and societal contexts and has been proven to break down barriers and foster connections. Try it at dinner!
What does Sonja do to lift her sense of happiness if she’s having a bad day?
Some of the strategies such as gratitude don’t always work right away, but you know they do overtime. So when I wake up and just feel down I first of all accept the feeling and reassure myself ‘this too shall pass’. William James – the father of psychology and philosopher said: ‘Experience is what I agree to attend to’, by that he means our experience is determined by where our attention resides. Am I thinking about a test I’m nervous about, the beautiful flowers in front of me, an argument I had this morning. We have control over our current experience because we have control over what we pay attention to. So be conscious of what you’re paying attention to as it’s having an enormous influence on how you feel.
I hope you found this as insightful as I did, make an intention to implement one of these strategies today and develop your own happiness plan.